Stroke Awareness: What You Need to Know

By Dr. James Yeash, D.O., family medicine, New West Physicians, part of Optum ~

Did you know someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds? Every three and a half minutes, someone dies of a stroke. Thankfully in Colorado, the rate of mortality associated with stroke has remained flat in recent years, but stroke remains the leading cause of death nationally for men and the fifth leading cause of death for women.

I’d like to remind Coloradans how to identify the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Taking early action and getting emergency treatment is key in increasing the chance of survival.

How does a stroke occur?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. This quickly damages brain cells and leads to symptoms of a stroke. Ischemic strokes occur when blood clots or other particles, called plaque, block blood vessels to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures, causing too much pressure on brain cells, damaging them.

A stroke is a health emergency that requires immediate care. As a rule, the greater the treatment delay, the more brain tissue is lost. 

What are signs or symptoms of a stroke?

Some of the most common signs of stroke include: sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs (especially on one side of the body), sudden trouble walking, lack of coordination or balance, a sudden severe headache, sudden trouble speaking or understanding speech, and sudden confusion. If you or anyone around you experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. 

There is a helpful acronym that can serve as a quick test to help determine whether someone might be experiencing a stroke: “FAST.” FAST stands for “Face, Arms, Speech, Time.” 

First, ask the person to smile to see if one side of their face is drooping, then ask the person to raise both arms to determine if there is weakness or difficulty moving one side. Have the person repeat a simple phrase to assess their speech. If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to call 911. Notice when the symptoms began so you can inform the health care professionals when they arrive. If symptoms begin to improve after a short period of time, the person may have experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which can be a warning sign for the future or a serious condition which also requires emergency care

Can people recover from strokes?

Recovery from a stroke is possible, but the timing and degree of recovery varies from person to person. Recovery can range from weeks to months or even years. Rehabilitation after a stroke begins in the hospital, often within a day or two. Rehab can help ease the transition from hospital to home and can help prevent another stroke. Common rehabilitation may include physical therapy to relearn movement and coordination skills, speech therapy to address issues understanding or producing speech and occupational therapy that focuses on improving daily tasks such as eating, dressing, and bathing. 

What are some ways to prevent a stroke?

The good news is that four out of five strokes are preventable. Once you’ve had a stroke, you’re at a high risk of having another stroke. That’s why it’s important to treat risk factors and incorporate healthy behaviors into your daily life. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease can all contribute to an increased risk for stroke. Work with your doctor to review your diet, incorporate exercise and begin medications. It’s also important to make healthy lifestyle choices and avoid the use of tobacco products


Prevent stroke by making healthy lifestyle choices now and know the symptoms so you can act FAST.

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